Tag Archives: CUNY

Congratulations, John Adams: You Got CUNY’d

21 Oct

On Twitter tonight, The New Yorker music critic Alex Ross, whose book The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century I discussed on Memorial Day, was tweeting about the protests that greeted the Met premiere of John Adams’s opera The Death of Klinghoffer.

Here are just some of Ross’ tweets.



I feel like John Adams and the Met just got the kind of treatment that we at CUNY get whenever we raise the issue of Israel/Palestine. The same gang mobilizes to shut us down. Indeed, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, who until recently was on the CUNY Board of Trustees and tried to deny Tony Kushner an honorary degree because of his stance on Israel, was at the protests tonight, leading the charge.

Here are some more Ross tweets.



Congratulations, John Adams: you just got CUNY’d.

Please do not sign Brooklyn College Worker Ed Petition

26 Jul

A petition titled “Save Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education” is currently being circulated on the internet. As the interim director of that center, a former union organizer, a vocal advocate of labor rights, and a firm believer in worker education, I am asking people NOT to sign this petition.

By way of background, the Graduate Center for Worker Education (GCWE) was historically run by a small group of faculty in my department (political science). In 2011, the department elected a new chair and a new executive committee, including myself. We discovered that the GCWE was suffering from severely compromised academic standards. We also found evidence of financial wrongdoing.

The Brooklyn College administration took immediate action and removed the director of the GCWE. I was appointed interim director in 2012 by Kimberley Phillips, then dean of the humanities and social sciences and a prominent labor historian in her own right (Phillips is also a past president of the Labor and Working-Class History Association). As per my agreement with the administration, I will be stepping down from this position at the end of August so that I can finish my sabbatical, which I had to interrupt in order to take on these responsibilities.

CUNY has since conducted an investigation of the GCWE and pursued disciplinary charges. The Attorney General’s office of the State of New York has also launched an investigation, and I have been questioned by members of that office. I am not privy to the details of these investigations and charges, so I won’t speak about them here.

But here is what I can say about the GCWE prior to my tenure.

The centerpiece of the GCWE is a masters’ program in urban policy and administration (UPA), which is housed in the political science department. Prior to the election of our current chair and executive committee, that program was run with no oversight by the chair or the executive committee. There was no formal admissions committee constituted by the chair and comprised of department faculty. Admissions rates ran from roughly 85 to 95%. The UPA program had no exit requirements such as a masters’ thesis or comprehensive exam, as is the case with other masters programs at Brooklyn College and elsewhere. The program’s curricular offerings and adjunct faculty were not vetted or evaluated by the chair or the executive committee.

Since the election of our new department leadership and my taking over the Center, we have taken the necessary steps to address these problems, including tightening our admissions standards.

Though the GCWE is described by the creators of this petition as possessing an “incredible legacy” of worker education, the fact is that it has not been a worker education center for some time, if ever. In 2000, an external evaluation report, which was co-authored by one of the leading labor scholars in the country, declared that “the program itself has little labor emphasis or worker education components….There is no clear focus around the implicit labor and worker orientation of the program.”

Despite that report and its recommendations, little at the GCWE changed in subsequent years, as I discovered when I became interim director. A report in 2012 that I co-authored with nationally recognized labor scholars Dorian Warren, Stephanie Luce, Josh Freeman, and Carolina Bank-Muñoz found that:

None of the six course requirements of the program has anything to do with labor or workers. The GCWE does offer two labor-oriented courses, but only infrequently. Any student could get through the MA program without having read, written, or spoken about a labor-related topic.

Unlike other labor-oriented programs—for example, the Murphy Institute [at CUNY]—the GCWE does not have an agreement with labor unions to recruit and help fund potential MA students from unions or government agencies. And unlike Murphy, the GCWE does not have a labor advisory board that would help inform and guide curricular decisions to benefit workers.

Though nearly 90% of GCWE students are over 25 and thus probably work (almost 100 percent are part-time students), Brooklyn College’s political science masters’ program as a whole has an even higher ratio of over-25 students, and more than 80% of all Brooklyn College masters students are part-time students. There is little in the demographics of the UPA masters program that could be characterized as worker-oriented and that distinguishes it, in that regard, from any other masters program run by Brooklyn College.

Whether the issue is curriculum, demographics, recruitment, or governance, there is no distinctive labor dimension to the MA program.

Our report went onto make several recommendations as to how the GCWE could be reconstituted with a stronger labor focus; those recommendations were given to the Brooklyn College administration.

In the past year, the political science faculty has had to make some difficult decisions about our involvement with the GCWE. It is our belief that, given the interests and strengths of our department, the UPA program, for which we are responsible, ought to focus on urban politics (indeed, we have just hired a specialist in urban politics). Although academic disciplines like history and sociology have flourishing sub-fields in labor studies, political science does not, which makes recruitment of full-time faculty in that field difficult. Given the troubled history of the center itself, we also believe faculty and students would be better served if our UPA program were housed on the Brooklyn College campus rather than at 25 Broadway in lower Manhattan, where it is currently housed.

These decisions, it should be stressed, are the decisions of the political science faculty. They are not, nor should they be, the decisions of the Brooklyn College administration.

By calling on the Brooklyn College administration to “fully restore the Urban & Policy Administration…programs at the Downtown Manhattan campus of the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education,” this petition and its signers are asking the administration to overturn the faculty’s deliberations and decisions, to force upon us curricular and admissions policies we have foresworn, and to tell us who we must hire.

That such a petition is being circulated by union activists and faculty who in any other circumstance would decry—and rightly so—such administrative interference as a violation of academic freedom is troubling. For that is what this petition is: a call to compromise the academic freedom and educational integrity of my department.

The petition also claims that the “dismantling of this long-standing program ranks with other attacks on working people across the country.” As someone who has watched that attack and reported on it here, who has close friends and colleagues in other worker education centers across the country—which are being attacked by anti-labor politicians—I find this language cynical in the extreme. It uses people’s legitimate concerns about the status of workers and worker education as a cover under which to smuggle a call for the restoration of a worker education program that has long since ceased to be a worker education program (in fact, the petition explicitly and repeatedly uses the language of restoration).

If people wish to have a discussion about the creation of a legitimate worker education program at Brooklyn College—rather than the restoration of a program that never was—I would welcome that. I’m sure that many of the individuals who signed this petition sincerely believed they were contributing to that end, which I share. Indeed, throughout this past year I have tried to have such a discussion.

But that discussion will not be advanced by this petition, which is far more concerned with restoring the lost privileges and prerogatives of a few individuals (“Reinstate the quality faculty members who previously taught at the center”; “Restore a full-time academic advisor”; “full restoration of the educational and support services”) who benefited from the old regime than it is with the creation of a genuine labor studies program or worker education center.

I urge you not to sign this petition, to ask MoveOn.org to remove your name if you have, to declare publicly that you wish to remove your name if MoveOn.org can’t or won’t, and to circulate this statement widely.

I’m told that if you email petitions@moveon.org and ask that your name be removed, they will do so promptly.

Update (August 3, 8 pm)

I wrote a second post on this issue, which provides more details and background. For folks who didn’t see it, I’m reproducing it here in its entirety.

David Laibman, a professor emeritus of economics at Brooklyn College, has been circulating a critical response to my post about the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education. I’d prefer not to get into the weeds of his various allegations; as he admits several times, he has no knowledge of most of the facts and events that led the Brooklyn College administration and the New York State Attorney General’s office to take the actions they have taken.

But Professor Laibman does make two claims that merit a response:

I have personal knowledge about the vicious and irresponsible behavior of the Department, in summarily firing the former Director of the CWE, and his secretary, and depriving the faculty and students, in Spring 2012, of all continuity, information, support and guidance.  The place was literally abandoned.

It is not possible for Professor Laibman to have personal knowledge of the political science department’s firing of the former director for the simple reason that the political science department did not fire the former director. As anyone with personal knowledge of this case knows, it was the Brooklyn College president who removed this individual from his position as director (he has not been fired as a professor, though disciplinary charges are currently being pursued). Two other full-time employees, neither of whom was the director’s secretary (both were administrators at the Center), were also removed from their positions by the administration.

Though Professor Laibman does not raise this issue, I should add that in addition to two full-time administrators, the Center had on its payroll approximately 25 part-time employees. By way of comparison, the political science department, which serves twice as many students on campus, employs only one full-time administrator and one part-time employee.

As for the Center being “literally abandoned,” I can understand why Professor Laibman might have had that impression. Much of the daily activity at the Center that he had been witness to prior to my tenure was the coming and going of the students, faculty, and staff of a French management school to which the Center’s leadership had been quietly renting space. (Indeed, when I became director I found written instructions to the Center staff telling them to remove the management school’s signs from its offices at 5 pm, when the worker education students and faculty began to arrive for their classes.) Those hundreds of people that Professor Laibman saw in the center’s classrooms, its computer lab, its conference room, and offices—Monday through Friday, 9 to 5—were not Brooklyn College or CUNY folks but management students, faculty, and staff from abroad.

One of the first actions the Brooklyn College administration took after I became interim director was to remove this management school from the premises so that our Brooklyn College students and staff could use the computer lab, conference room, and classrooms that previously had been occupied by management school students and staff. The administration simply did not believe that renting out space to a management school was consistent with the mission of a worker education center.

In addition to this French management school, the Center’s former leadership had also been quietly renting space to a French film school. In order to house this film school, the former leadership took away a spacious office from Working USA, which is a prominent labor journal edited by Professor Manny Ness, and relocated Ness and his journal in an office that was about the size of a large broom closet.

Once the French film school was removed by the Brooklyn College administration (for the same reason it removed the management school), I promptly returned that larger office to Working USA and to Professor Ness so that he could meet with students and union activists, conduct his research, and edit his labor journal in a proper space. (Professor Ness is currently spearheading this petition drive on behalf of the old center; I have not spoken with him, so I have no idea why he wishes to return to a regime that put the needs of a French film school above those of his labor journal, his labor research, his students, and his work with the labor movement.)

On a different note, one response I’ve heard from defenders of the old regime at the Center is that it serves working students, students of color, immigrant students, and union members. As any faculty member throughout the CUNY system will testify, most if not all of our students work, and many are immigrants and/or of color. Many of our students are union members; that has certainly been my experience on the Brooklyn College campus. To the extent that defenders of the old regime trumpet these demographic characteristics of the Center, they are merely stating that the Center is no different from CUNY as a whole.

Fair-minded defenders of the Center also argue that older students who work need a space in lower Manhattan where they can pursue an MA. That is a fair and legitimate point. If that’s the goal, however, proponents should simply demand that of the administration and not conflate that demand with either a return to the old regime or with the call for a worker education center (there is a higher proportion, after all, of MA students in political science on the Brooklyn College campus who fit this profile of older students who work than there is at the Center).

Nor should proponents of this vision conflate that demand with the political science department running an extensive MA program in lower Manhattan. If what people want is the opportunity to get an MA in lower Manhattan, there is no reason it should be restricted to political science. Why not petition the administration to provide opportunities to seek an MA in multiple disciplines like history, English, and sociology? In other words, what people seem to really want is for Brooklyn College to set up a satellite campus in lower Manhattan, much as City College has done with its liberal studies program at 25 Broadway. They should simply ask for that—and understand that a satellite campus, with all its facilities and requirements, must be managed by an administration, not a department or member of the faculty.

There is no going back to the old regime; we need a clean break with the past. The best thing people who do care about a labor center can do is to formulate a new vision for labor-related programs and worker education at Brooklyn College, to organize and agitate for that vision, and to press the administration to carry it out. Thus far, very few of the full-time faculty (five, at last count) and very few students at Brooklyn College or members of our faculty and staff union have signed onto this petition. But I know there are many more faculty and students on campus who care about the ideals and mission of worker education and labor. I strongly encourage all of you who do care to start a fresh discussion and campaign, one not tied to this old regime, and to create something that lives up to the ideals that so many of us share.

Because I will be stepping down as interim director in a matter of weeks, and because I do not believe it is productive to continue a public back and forth with defenders of the old regime, this will be my last post on this matter. I’ll leave it to the members of Brooklyn College and the wider CUNY community to debate and discuss where we go from here.

CUNY Backs Down (Way Down) on Petraeus

15 Jul

Today CUNY announced that it would pay General David Petraeus exactly $1 to teach two courses next year. As the New York Times suggests, the scandal just got to be too much for the university and for Petraeus:

It was supposed to be a feather in the cap for the City University of New York’s ambitious honors college. Or perhaps a careful first step back into public life for a leader sidelined by scandal.

One way or another, the news that David H. Petraeus, the former C.I.A. director and commander of the allied forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, would be a visiting professor at the Macaulay Honors College at CUNY this coming academic year was supposed to be great publicity all around.

Instead it turned into a minor scandal all its own, as some professors and politicians expressed outrage over his six-figure salary, and others accused the university’s administration of lying about just what the salary was.

On Monday, it was announced that Mr. Petraeus would, on second thought, teach for just $1.

This is a huge victory, of which all of you who sent emails and signed petitions should be proud. If this blog contributed one iota to this effort—if all of us did indeed just save CUNY $149,999 to $199,999—I could not be more pleased. I hope that money can now be put to a good cause: increasing the salary of Research Foundation employees by 3%, providing full tuition wavers for 26 students or books and other supplies to 120 students, or any of the other many needs of our faculty, students, and staff that have been identified in recent weeks.

The question of a potential cover-up still remains. The Times reports:

Those documents and others provided by CUNY reveal an extensive and friendly e-mail correspondence between Mr. Petraeus and Dr. Kirschner. The two went back and forth about the seminar, an op-ed article they contemplated writing together, and even their day. They do not appear to have exchanged e-mail about reducing his salary until word of his compensation — far more than most CUNY professors receive, for far less work — began making headlines.

CUNY officials insisted that those headlines were wrong, that despite the offer of at least $200,000, Mr. Petraeus had agreed to a smaller sum, all from private funds. To back up that point, Dr. Kirschner then wrote him a letter “memorializing our discussions over the past few months regarding your appointment as Visiting Professor at Macaulay Honors College at $150,000.”

That “memorializing” letter failed to convince critics. So a while later she released a document that was described as an early draft of the agreement. But that draft had never been sent, making its relevance unclear, and it was not included with the original cache of documents that had been released.

Several points to note.

1. The Times has obtained additional documents beyond those obtained by Gawker in its FOIL request. Those documents include direct correspondence between Dean Ann Kirschner and Petraeus prior to Gawker‘s July 1 story.

2. None of these additional documents includes any mention of a lower salary. It’s possible that CUNY discussed the lower salary with Petraeus’s representatives rather than Petraeus himself; it’s also possible that these discussions occurred entirely by phone.  The Times doesn’t tell us one way or another. What we do know is that Kirschner and Petraeus never discussed via email a lower salary until after the Gawker story broke.

3. Kirschner’s May 29 letter, with the lower salary figure, was never sent. CUNY has claimed the letter was “sent” by Kirschner to other “CUNY offices.” From the Times piece it’s unclear if it was simply not sent to Petraeus and/or his representatives or if it was never sent to anyone.

Gawker reporter J.K. Trotter tells me he has just received the Macaulay FOIL documents. Once he goes through them, we’ll find out the whole story.

While questions remain, I want to reiterate that this is a major victory, one that I myself did not think possible. Again, it’s a testament to all of you.

But more important I hope that we can soon begin to discuss the real issues at CUNY that this scandal has exposed: that most of our classes are taught by adjuncts who are woefully underpaid and disrespected; that we have a university administration that seems to put the glitz and glitter of celebrity hires, drawn from the higher circles of power, ahead of excellence and equity; and that we are a cash-starved institution that needs resources and competent leaders rather than austerity and starstruck administrators.

Update (July 15, 10:30 pm)

In my rush to post this, I forgot to thank a bunch of individuals. First and most important to J.K. Trotter of Gawker who broke the story and generously shared information throughout the past two weeks. I have a feeling we’ll be hearing more from and about Trotter in the future. He’s that rare thing: a reporter who’s actually got a nose for the news. Second, to Republican State Assemblyman Kieran Lalor and his chief of staff Chris Covucci. It’s not often that I find myself in alliance with folks on the other side of the ideological spectrum; was pleased to be in this case. Third, to Brad Lander and Bill de Blasio. I’ve tangled with these officials in the past; I was glad they took the stand that they did on this issue, and in Lander’s case, that he went the extra mile to organize on this issue. And again thanks to all of you. Good work.

Update (11:45 pm)

Kirschner has posted about the Petraeus hire on her website. The headline (which she also tweeted):

Dr. Petraeus teaching at Macaulay for $1, no typo there, just good will. Wonder if you know it when you see it?


Even Don Draper Went to CUNY

5 Jul

Some defenders of CUNY’s hiring of General David Petraeus are claiming that it is a worthwhile investment. The 10 to 20 students in his seminar will profit from his elite contacts. The networking. The access.  The all in.

Even if this were true, it’s an expensive proposition. CUNY educates some 200,000 students a year. Spending $150,000 to reach .005 to .01% of them seems like a bad use of resources.

But more important, it signals how much our understanding of public education, and its role in the larger culture, has changed.

Here is just a small list of CUNY alumni from over the years: Bella Azbug, Audre Lorde, Colin Powell, Irving Howe, Ruby Dee, Shirley Chisholm, Paddy Chayevsky, Nathan Glazer, Irving Kristol, Daniel Bell, Oscar Hijuelos, Sonia Sanchez, Zero Mostel, Walter Mosley, Felix Frankfurter, Jonas Salk, Robert Scheer.

Even Don Draper went to City College.

And yet somehow these men and women managed to make their way into the world without the benefit of an overpaid adjunct.

The mission of CUNY is to educate hundreds of thousands—not 10 or 15—of poor, working class, and immigrant students, to propel them into a culture that they then transform. Historically, it managed to do that without celebrity hires. That some now think that can only be done by showering money on a man rather than investing in an institution speaks volumes about the way we live now.

It’s Official: CUNY Scandal Upgraded to “Petraeusgate”

3 Jul

I’ve just received several emails from J.K. Trotter, the Gawker reporter who broke the story of CUNY paying David Petraeus $150/$200k to teach one course next year at the Macaulay Honors College. With Trotter’s permission, I am publishing excerpts from his emails here.

For background on the ever growing scandal—specifically, whether CUNY fabricated a fake offer letter after the story broke—see here, here, and here.

Here’s Trotter:

Regarding the FOIL [Freedom of Information Law] discrepancy: When I first requested the records in question, I submitted two identical requests to both CUNY’s Central Office, on 42nd Street, and Macaulay Honors College, since each employ their own records access officer. (I asked for correspondence between Petraeus and CUNY officials, and for correspondence between CUNY officials about Petraeus.) I received the records from Central Office on June 26, and was promised the Macaulay records on June 28, but on that date Macaulay’s records access officer notified me that the Macaulay records would be delayed by two weeks (until July 15) because she and her staff were, apparently, all going on vacation. It is possible, then, that the letter published on CUNY’s website is contained in those records. However…

There is reason to think said letter is not contained in those records. For one, as the Central Office records show, records between campuses frequently overlap. The Central Office records contain correspondence not only between Petraeus and Ann Kirschner — who does not work in Central Office — but between Kirschner and other faculty members about Petraeus’s appointment. It would be extremely odd for the Central Office records to include these particular emails but not Kirschner’s May 29 letter, if in fact Kirschner circulated it among CUNY officials. That would explain why the website’s verbiage briefly — but very, very specifically — indicated that Kirschner did not send the letter but merely “drafted” it. A FOIL request would likely not capture an email draft.

The letter smells funny for another reason: up until a few hours ago, multiple CUNY officials categorically denied any written record of the $150,000 salary being discussed before July 1. The Central Office’s records access officer, David Fields, sent me the July 1 email this morning after I asked him to send me an updated offer letter. Above the email, he wrote: See below….here are final details for job offer.  This came directly for Honors College, was not at Central Office. And after the Gawker article came out, Jay Hershenson, CUNY’s Senior Vice Chancellor for University Relations, told Assemblyman Lalor that there were no other written records pertaining to Petraeus’s lowered salary.

Finally, yesterday evening I had an extremely odd telephone conversation with Michael Arena, the CUNY official to whom all CUNY staffers have been ordered to direct Petraeus-related inquiries. Initially he did not understand that I was seeking proof in the form of a formal offer letter, typed under official university letterhead, not a random email sent two hours after the Gawker article. He literally did not understand why the email did not qualify as an actual offer letter — in part because the email itself simply “memorialized” prior discussions, rather than explaining an actual offer. On and on and on this went. (And remember, this was after Arena told ABC News that we failed to report an email sent two hours after our initial report.) But then, finally, he had some kind of epiphany, and suddenly grasped the importance of finding an legitimate offer letter. And 24 hours later, on the eve of a national holiday, look what appeared on CUNY’s website.

Also, just to clarify: Before publishing the Gawker piece, I asked Arena to confirm the details of the $200,000 salary, and he simply answered that CUNY was still fundraising for it. He gave no indication, and I had no reason to believe, that the salary would be lower than an official offer letter indicated.

In a Hole, CUNY Digs Deeper

3 Jul

Two days ago, Gawker reported that CUNY was paying General David Petraeus $200,000 to teach one course next year. Three hours after the story broke, CUNY informed Gawker that the salary was in fact lower: Petraeus would only be getting $150,000 and would also be giving some of it to charity. Yesterday, Republican State Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor challenged the timing of that announcement, pointing out that CUNY had yet to produce any documentary evidence to show that it had not revised the salary downward after—and only after—the Gawker story had broken.

CUNY is now claiming that they have a letter, dated May 29, 2013, from Dean Anne Kirschner to Petraeus, setting out the $150,000 salary. They’ve posted it on this website.

There’s just one problem: since posting the letter, an inside source tells me, administrators have taken down it down twice. Right now, all I’m getting when I click on the link is an Error 404 message.

Another problem: if this letter had indeed been sent on May 29, why would Kirschner have needed to send an email with the new salary to Petraeus—”memorializing our discussions over the past few months”—on July 1, after the Gawker story broke?

Word to the wise: it’s never the crime, it’s always the cover-up.

Update (5:45 pm)

My source tells me that the first time CUNY posted the letter it was neither a pdf or jpeg of the letter; it was merely HTML text typed into the website. It was up, the source claims, for about 25 minutes or so. The second time it went up, the letter looked like this. There was no time-stamp on the letter or anything to document that it had been written, much less sent, on May 29. My source also says there’s something fishy both about the Macaulay logo and the absence of  a CUNY logo on the lower left. (For more info on Macaulay logos, see pp. 7-8 here.) The letter was up for only a short period of time. It was taken down quickly, and then all you could get was an Error 404 message. Here’s a screen shot of that.

Update (6 pm)

Okay, the letter is now back up. This time it’s prefaced with the following explanation:

The Chancellor offered Dr. Petraeus an appointment as Visiting Professor at a salary of $200,000. The appointment was then announced by the University on April 23rd, 2013, by a Board of Trustees resolution “at a salary to be determined by the Chancellor.” Discussions related to salary and other terms of the appointment were conducted subsequently between Macaulay Honors College and Dr. Petraeus’ representatives. In May, those discussions reached the conclusion that Dr. Petraeus would receive $150,000 per year. On May 29th, Dean Ann Kirschner of Macaulay Honors College drafted an agreement and sent it to University offices (appended below). On July 1st, Dean Kirschner transmitted those same terms in a commitment email that also reflected Dr Petraeus’ generous decision to donate a portion of his salary to veterans’ organizations.

So now they’re claiming the letter was drafted and circulated internally within CUNY’s offices on May 29. And then suddenly, on July 1, after the story broke, they decided to send the terms of the letter, supposedly at Petraeus’s lawyer’s request, to Petraeus in the form of an informal email only.

Three points: First, there is still no proof that that May 29 agreement was in fact drafted or circulated internally on May 29, as they are now claiming. Second, when Petraeus’s lawyer asked for the terms of the letter to be sent, why wouldn’t they have sent the letter they had drafted on May 29? Why the informal email instead? Third, how do they explain the timing? On July 1, a full month after a final agreement was supposedly reached, they finally decide to communicate the contents of that agreement to Petraeus—just hours after the story breaks?

Here is a screen shot of the letter itself. I’m working on a screen shot of the preface. But you have the text above.

Update (6:45 pm)

Unbelievably, somewhere in between my 5:45 and my 6 pm updates, CUNY posted a different explanation of the letter. Here is a screen shot of that different explanation, which my source sent to me. The key differences in the two explanations:

  1. This first sentence was not present in the penultimate version but was added to the final version: “The Chancellor offered Dr. Petraeus an appointment as Visiting Professor at a salary of $200,000.”
  2. The penultimate sentence of the penultimate version read as follows: “On May 29th, Dean Ann Kirschner of Macaulay Honors College drafted (but did not send and instead communicated verbally) an email to University Offices the agreed-upon terms in a document appended below.” Someone then changed this sentence to the following: “On May 29th, Dean Ann Kirschner of Macaulay Honors College drafted an agreement and sent it to University offices (appended below).”
  3. The final sentence of the penultimate version read as follows: “On July 1st, Dean Kirschner transmitted those terms in a commitment letter at the request of Mr. Bennet, Dr. Petraeus’ attorney.” Someone then changed this sentence to the following: O”n July 1st, Dean Kirschner transmitted those same terms in a commitment email that also reflected Dr Petraeus’ generous decision to donate a portion of his salary to veterans’ organizations.”

So they changed Kirschner’s draft from an email that was not sent (but the contents of which were captured in a “document appended below” and communicated verbally) to an agreement that was sent. And they changed commitment letter to commitment email.

These guys are spinning as fast as they can. Luckily it’s the 4th of July and everyone’s gone home for the weekend. Will keep you posted.

Update (7 pm)

A reader raises an interesting question: why does the May 29 document/email/letter/whatever not show up in the FOIL request? We’d have to ask Gawker when they made the request and when it was fulfilled. But if that document was indeed circulated internally within CUNY’s offices, as the final explanation claims, and if the FOIL request came sometime after, it should appear in the FOIL documents provided. Someone should follow that up.

Update (7:15 pm)

From my source:

The question about the FOIL date is dead right. On Monday, the university actually told me that they provided all of the written documentation to Gawker. They also told me that there was no written documentation prior to the July 1st email. But the date of the Gawker FOIL request is crucial here.

Update (8:15 pm)

Re my update about the timing of the FOIL request (see 7 pm above), J.K. Trotter, who wrote that Gawker piece, just tweeted this:

So if the May 29 letter was real, and had in fact been circulated within CUNY, it should have been included in the cache of documents Trotter got from the FOIL request.

Update (July 4, 8:15 am)

Late last night, J.R. Trotter, the Gawker reporter mentioned in my last update, sent me a cache of emails with new information. See my post here.

NYS Assemblyman (and Iraq War Vet) Blasts CUNY Over Petraeus: Says Administrators Are Lying

2 Jul

CUNY administrators are coming under increasing fire for their decision to hire General David Petraeus to teach one course next year for anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000. The American Association of University Professors has denounced the decision. And now Republican State Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor, a Marine vet who fought in the Iraq War, has issued a scorching letter to CUNY interim chancellor William Kelly.

Lalor focuses on two issues. First, he charges CUNY with dishonesty. When Gawker first broke the story of Petraeus’s salary, it reported that he was going to be getting $200k. That report was based on Freedom of Information Law documents Gawker had obtained from CUNY. Within hours, however, CUNY announced that Petraeus was only going to get $150k and that part of his earnings would go to charity.

As Lalor points out, there’s something fishy about the timing of that announcement.

In an email time-stamped two-and-a-half hours after the Gawker story was published, the University Vice Chancellor writes to Petraeus to “memorialize” discussions between the University and Petraeus agreeing to a $150,000 salary, of which Petraeus would donate a portion to charity. The University is telling the public that Petraeus agreed to this different arrangement before the story went public out of the goodness of his heart. However, when the University spokesman spoke with my staff, it became clear that there was no written documentation of this change prior to the publication of the Gawker story. That’s strange given the fact that there are numerous back-and-forth emails discussing the salary written before the Gawker story. All of those emails conclude that the salary will be $200,000 and mention nothing about charitable donations.

In no uncertain terms, Lalor accuses the university and Petraeus of scrambling after the Gawker story broke to make the salary issue seem more palatable.

It appears that Petraeus and the University are being dishonest with the public in an attempt to save face. Rather than admitting a mistake, they are claiming they never made the mistake. I am skeptical to say the least. I am formally requesting that the University provide the public with any written documentation to prove the claim that the salary cut came before the public criticism. If that is unavailable, I am asking the University to rescind its offer to Petreaus. A troubling pattern of dishonesty has emerged around him. If there was a cover-up here, Petraeus is not the right fit for the University.

The second issue Lalor raises is: What in the world is CUNY, a cash-strapped public institution with a mission to educate poor and working-class students, doing with a celebrity hire like this? Couldn’t that $150k or $200k be better spent elsewhere? Again, Lalor:

High-priced celebrity hires are not the right fit for a public university. Whether it is $150,000 or $200,000 to teach a single class a semester, this is not a good investment. Taxpayers fund CUNY to provide an affordable education for New Yorkers. Paying $150,000 to David Petraeus to teach a three-credit seminar for two semesters contributes little to an affordable, quality education. Taxpayers and students both deserve better. While Petraeus might offer some glamour, that alone does not fit with the University’s mission.

It is also not quite accurate to claim that Petraeus’ salary will not be funded by taxpayers. CUNY is a public university. According to the CUNY spokesman, Petraeus will be paid from the University’s Research Foundation. However, there are no grants or donations specifically earmarked by donors to pay for Petraeus. That means the salary will come from the Foundation’s general funds. Money sources are fungible in a large institution and when CUNY takes funds from one place, it affects other funds, specifically tax dollars and student tuition payments. This hire definitely involves tax dollars and public spending.

I have no idea if Lalor is right about whether tax-payers are footing the bill for this celebrity hire or not. But let’s assume CUNY is securing private funds for it. Isn’t that in itself a terrible waste of resources? Private donations don’t just roll in; university fundraisers work and cultivate donors to make specific donations for earmarked funds. The notion that even one paid member of the university staff is working right now to secure private money to pay for this hire is itself a scandal.

It’s also indicative of a larger problem: CUNY is being run (into the ground) by a group of men and women with no sense of how to educate students, how to build (and pay) a first-class teaching staff, and how to manage a great public institution.

Update (July 3, 5 pm)

Apparently CUNY is now claiming that they have a letter, dated May 29, 2013, from Dean Kirschner to Petraeus, setting out the $150,000 salary. They’ve posted it on this website.

There’s just one problem: CUNY administrators have posted and taken down the letter twice. Right now, all I’m getting when I click on the link is an Error 404 message. And there’s still no time-stamped evidence to support their claim.

Another problem: if this letter had indeed been sent on May 29, why would Kirschner have needed to send an email with the new salary to Petraeus on July 1—after the Gawker story broke—”memorializing our discussions over the past few months”?


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